Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District heightened the standard of education that children with disabilities are entitled to receive. We know that a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be tailored to a child’s unique needs, but that doesn’t tell us how much progress a child should be making in order to call an IEP adequate—an issue the Supreme Court addressed in Endrew F.
The previous standard was that a child needed to receive “some educational benefit.” Prior to Endrew F., this ambiguous language was interpreted differently by different circuit courts for decades. When the 10th Circuit reviewed Endrew F., it continued its practice of interpreting “some educational benefit” as “merely more than de minimus.” This meant that a child with disabilities was receiving an adequate education under the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) if they made even the smallest amount of progress during a school year. The Supreme Court determined in Endrew F., however, that an “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of [a child’s] circumstances,” calling it “markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’” test. That was great news!
After the Supreme Court’s decision, the case was sent back down to the trial level—to the District Court in Denver, Colorado. The District Court was charged with deciding whether Endrew, who has autism, was entitled to reimbursement for his private school tuition. His parents said he had made very little progress at his public school in Douglas County, but made much more progress at a private school his parents placed him in, with the help of their attorney. His new school used a Behavioral Interventional Plan that was tailored to Endrew’s needs.
Last week, after more than a decade of struggling, Judge Lewis Babcock ruled that the Douglas County School District is responsible for the private school costs for Endrew. We’re so happy that Endrew and his parents had this victory, and we hope that the Douglas County School District, and school districts across the nation, learn to prioritize the unique needs of our students, so that all students can have access to a challenging, rewarding education that helps them learn and grow.